Tag archive for "Christmas"




No Comments 07 December 2014

By Ana Villanueva-Lykes — THE most celebrated holiday in the Philippines requires a lot of work and time put into it – three months to be exact – to commemorate the humble birth of a baby in a manger. When the “ber” months roll in, Filipinos everywhere in the world begin the planning and the hard work that will lead to that one festive day. But the whole three months is not just about the preparing and the waiting. The preparation in itself becomes a celebration, for others, a sacred ritual, a tradition.

Countdown begins

You know Christmas has commenced in the Philippines when you start hearing Frank Sinatra jingling his bells in jeepneys even though there is nary a snowflake falling from the smog-filled sky. But the air is thick with anticipation and the joyful preparation ensues. The tradition of decorating and lighting the plastic trees begin. Suddenly, the air seems cooler and the strong desire to spend cannot be ignored. And it’s only September. Before December nears, the entire Christmas bonus – yet to be handed out – has already been spent.

Malls are eager to indulge. Lavish displays of Christmas scenes are already in every corner. Gigantic empty boxes wrapped in glittering paper rests on artificial powdered snow while a red- suited dark-skinned fellow walks around dispensing ho-ho-ho’s.

Concerts are already being planned, constructions are under way, holiday collections have been launched, and the daily practice for the Christmas program starts. Christmas has begun.

Meanwhile in the workshop

This time of the year, the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) is busier than Santa’s elves as traffic enforcers always anticipate motorist madness with people rushing to get their shopping done and trying to get from one party to the other. Traffic congestion in Manila is expected to increase by at least 20%.

By November, MMDA is already preparing the Christmas lanes (alternate routes) to help ease the heavy traffic on main thoroughfares. In addition, the agency is working with malls to adjust their operating hours so as not to aggravate the rush hours.

Phone companies are also getting ready, expecting the usual data and voice traffic surge during the holidays. The Philippines has been ranked No. 1 for the past few years in highest SMS traffic during the festive season with over 2.3 billion text messages sent.

Christmas display at Greenhills Shopping Center

Christmas display at Greenhills Shopping Center

In our hearts

The pious ones also prepare to make room for the coming of the Savior. Catholic practitioners for instance observe the season of advent, the time of expectant waiting and preparation for the Nativity of Jesus. Devotees flock the church as early as 3 in the morning for Simbang Gabi from December 16 all the way to Christmas Eve. Early risers are rewarded with a steaming hot bibingka enjoyed under the saints and stars overhead, blinking in approval. But really, the reward is a wish granted, a promise of the parol, the Star of Bethlehem.

Simbang gabi

Simbang gabi

Across the seas

While people are stocking up on candy for Halloween and picking pumpkins at the patch in the Western world, Pinoys abroad are also busy getting ready, because the coming of the Savior also means going home. For months they squirrel away their wages for that expensive plane ticket that will reunite them with their family on Christmas Day.

It is not surprising that airfare skyrockets during the holidays. Rates peak after thanksgiving to Christmas, because people are waiting to do away with the festivities and the expenses before they can afford to book.

The smarter ones start saving at the beginning of the year and then shop for tickets by September or even as early as May when the rates are relatively cheaper. But booking is only part of the journey. There’s the coordinating with relatives for reservations, accommodations, transportation, the big homecoming extravaganza, and the of course, the pasalubong.

Inside the box

Perhaps even more anticipated than the long-missed relative is the balikbyan box, the treasure chest filled with bounty, a year’s worth of hard work: slightly used Coach purses, an X-box bought on layaway, bars of Tobleron cherished like gold bullion bars, and Johnny Walker carefully wrapped in thick fluffy towels that smell “stateside”. These are collected in a span of months or a year, products of President’s Day sales, Black Friday sales, garage sales, and big bonuses. By September, the packing begins, and the veteran stuffs everything in a 2 x 3 x3 ft. space, sparing not a single cavity, squeezing socks and candies in Nike Kobes to make the most out of the $99 shipping charge.

Home for Christmas

Home for Christmas

Before end of October, the bulging box is sent off, because it takes about two months for the package to arrive to eagerly waiting relatives. Sometimes the box doesn’t arrive in time for Christmas, so some start the process by August.

Balikbayans bringing the goodies back home with them are mindful of the 23-kg weight limit, again putting to good use the packing skills even with the carry-ons, because not a single relative is to be left out. Everyone gets to partake in the bounty and join the joyous occasion.




No Comments 22 December 2013

By Ana Villanueva-Lykes

It’s the night before Christmas and children are singing carols at the door. “Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh, through the fields we go,” they belt out, laughing all the way. Inside, People watch, smiling, not thinking that if the kids were indeed dashing through the snow, their toes would freeze in their tsinelas while jingling, not bells, but makeshift tambourines. None of them have ever seen real snow either.

Next door, a little girl is dreaming of Santa leaving gifts under the tree. She is not worried that Santa may not be able to get in their locked house without a chimney.   

Filipinos don’t worry about freezing toes or how Santa can’t get in the house. None of these matter, yet we embrace St. Nick who would probably die of the tropical heat or the Snowman who would melt in an instant should we set him in our front yard (if we can find the snow to make one). We make these characters and traditions our own even when they are not applicable to us or have no significance to us.

The-Peninsula xmas tree550x418

Cards and décor are festooned by Western icons that do not apply to us. We deck our halls with fake garlands and sing about white Christmases, the ones that we’ve never known before. Even singing “Ang Pasko ay Sumapit” at people’s doorsteps, like the giving of cards and gifts and the commercialization of the holiday, are copied from the Americans. 

Inside the house, the baby in the manger is overshadowed by the plastic tree twinkling with a hundred little light bulbs and fake snowflakes. We revere it like an altar, offering gifts at its feet, not really knowing its origins.

Eastwood xmas tree270

There are a number of speculations to the tree’s beginning and none of which are relevant to us. The Christmas tree’s roots trace their way back to early modern Germany, symbolizing evergreen trees in pre-Christian winter rites and the conversion of German pagans. Tree worship was popular among pagan Europeans, a practice that survived their conversion to Christianity. The decoration of evergreens was said to scare away the devil.

For the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews, the tree and the wreath symbolized eternal life. For us Filipinos, the PVC tree, introduced by the Germans in the 19th century, is where we set up the gifts for loved ones and where we gather to celebrate family.


Close by is the Nativity Scene, an image that we hold close to our hearts as a predominantly Christian country. We make the crèche our own, calling it the belén, the Spanish word for Bethlehem, owing it to our Spanish colonizers.

Like the belén, many of our Christmas traditions were inherited from our Spanish colonizers. One of them is Noche Buena, the Christmas Eve dinner. Although the traditional midnight feast was handed down to us, we made the menu very Filipino with pancit, hamon, queso de bola (although it is a Dutch cheese), lumpia, and bibingka surrounding the lechon. Even the dishes we copied, we “filipinized”, sweetening the spaghetti and sprinkling cheese to our fruit salad.

misa de gallo2-550

Another borrowed custom is the Misa de Gallo, the midnight Mass celebrated on Christmas Eve inspired by the early Christians of Jerusalem who honored the birth of the Lord with a midnight vigil in Bethlehem. The Simbang Gabi is our own version of the Misas de Aguinaldo, the dawn Masses of Christmas held from the 16th  to the 24th of December. Although historians claim that the devotional Mass, originally celebrated in the evenings, was said to have been moved at dawn as a compromise for exhausted Filipino farmers, the Misas de Aguinaldo is also being observed at dawn in other Spanish-speaking countries.

Then there’s the aguinaldo, the customary gift given to godchildren. The Christmas aguinaldo usually comes in the form of crisp peso bills handed in red envelopes, inspired by the Chinese. But not surprisingly, the word aguinaldo is a Spanish word meaning gift. Countries like Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Mexico have their own form of aguinaldo as influenced by the Spaniards.  

Without a doubt, it is the Spaniards who have greatly influenced our Yuletide celebration. After all, it is our 300-year colonizers who introduced Christianity and ultimately the practice of commemorating the birth of the Savior. Mixed into the pot are the contributions of the British, the Germans, the Americans, and the Chinese which resulted into a heterogeneous tradition. Every year we cook up a celebration that is something of our own with all these influences as our ingredients, spicing it up with our generosity, creativity, and a grateful heart.

We reinvent what is borrowed by making everything grander. A 12-day celebration for others is stretched into a three-month extravaganza. While New Year’s is reflective for most, ours is a big bang with fireworks going off till dawn to drive away evil and bring good luck (a belief that originated from the Chinese). And the celebration isn’t just a day, it’s a three and a half-day holiday with the 31st made into a sandwiched holiday and the 30th, Rizal Day, also another reason to celebrate.

Even Filipinos overseas have redefined the meaning of the art of giving at Christmas. Around December, remittances pour from Pinoys abroad and the balikbayan boxes arrive, packed with canned goods and fluffy towels. Relatives hope the box arrives before Christmas that they may partake of an American Christmas, a whiff of evergreens. And although we copied caroling from the Americans, we sweeten the songs with Filipino generosity by rewarding the songsters with coins or treats.

So yes, we borrow Santa in his thickly insulated red suit and even Jesus in his manger. Most of us may not know the origins or the true meaning of some of these symbols like the tree or the wreath, but all that matters is that they signify for us a time of giving and thanksgiving.  Gift-giving may be an inheritance from the Americans, but giving is inherently Filipino.


You might say that the parol, an iconic Filipino Christmas image, is also inspired by the Spaniard’s Christian teachings (even the term parol was coined from the Spanish word for lantern), a reminder of the star of Bethlehem, but for us, its significance shines brighter than the tinsel and is purer than snow. After all, Christmas for Filipinos goes beyond the packed malls or the songs of good cheer played over and over until it has lost meaning. Christmas for us is all about family, giving, and ultimately bringing glory to God.




No Comments 13 December 2013

The perfect Christmas gift is always a nice vacation with family and friends. Since we also have to give dozens of godchildren gifts, we sometimes lack the funds to travel to expensive places. So here’s a list of the more affordable places to visit for the long Christmas to New Year break. READ FULL STORY




No Comments 10 December 2013

‘Tis the season for the merry Pinoy food! Here are 8 dishes that will most likely be on our checklist this Christmas. Ushering the start of simbang gabi or the traditional misa de gallo is the huff puffing of steam coming from the puto bumbong cylindrical bamboo steamers outside churches. READ FULL STORY




No Comments 04 December 2013

Metro Manila is all dressed up for the season. Here are snap shots of the 10 most popular holiday attractions that have become part of the Christmas scene in the metropolis. CLICK HERE




1 Comment 30 November 2010

By Aby Yap

In a nation whose days are marked by countless festivities—most of which you no longer celebrate for reasons financial and otherwise—you know it’s that most wonderful time of the year again when A to Z suddenly means:

Aguinaldo: With every warm greeting of Mano po, Ninong/Ninang comes every kid’s unconcealed wish for an aguinaldo. No, it doesn’t have to be gold, frankincense, or myrrh. A gift-wrapped toy or a crisp beInte is enough to earn a grateful kiss from your inaanak.

Bibingka: A taste of this season’s delights? Start with grilled bibingka, its sweetness melting with the salted egg, creamy cheese, and grated coconut in your mouth. Follow it with the purple puto bumbong and wrap up with a cup of hot thick tsokolate for a delicious experience.

Christmas Tree: You not only look forward to the lighting of the giant Christmas tree at Araneta Center, you also can’t wait to assemble your own tree in the living room and surround it with presents of all sizes. As soon as All Souls Day is over.

Dollars: More than any other time of the year, it’s during Christmas when dollars pour into the country. And like manna from heaven, dollars remitted by OFWs and spent by balikbayans make this season a lot merrier, especially for the lucky beneficiaries, and keep our economy sane.

Emote: For those who are into LDR (Long Distance Relationships) or certified members of the SMP (Samahang Malalamig ang Pasko), you can now emote-to-the max while listening to Gary V. croon Pasko na Sinta Ko without ridicule from people around you. That’s because they have to give love on Christmas Day, according to MJ.

Fiesta Ham: Whoever cooked up this branding deserves a lifetime supply of hamon. And not just any other ham; it should be fiesta ham! Imagine the need it has created among us. We lust after this delectable slab of glazed meat (with pineapple rings on top, please) year after year.

Gastos: Still wondering where your 13th month has gone? One miserable word: gastos. The worse part is we’re actually enjoying it. We shop for gifts, clothes, food, drinks, and whatever the season calls for like there’s no tomorrow. The only consolation is we’re no Scrooge.

Home: Ah, home, in the loving company of those dearest to you: family and friends. And if you’re part of an extended family, don’t forget to include your apos sa tuhod, 5th-degree cousins, kinakapatid, in-laws, kabarangays, etc. Christmas is worth celebrating when you’re at home.

Inaanak: For those whose list of inaanaks is longer than EDSA, playing Hide and Seek is the customary practice—not that it’s advisable. See, you can’t hide for the rest of your life. Besides, you have to confront your fear. Just arm yourself with aguinaldo.

Jesus: How many times have we heard it that Jesus is the reason for the season and not jolly Santa Claus? Yes, the big guy is rosy-cheeked, cute, and brings us gifts through the chimney (which makes his identity sound incredible). But Jesus, the poor babe who was born in a manger, is our Savior.

Karoling: “Namamasko pooo!”  Once you hear this announcement, prepare to listen to a sintunado medley of Sa may bahay…, Ang Pasko ay sumapit, and other easy-to-memorize Pinoy carols. Then, give out a few coins lest you hear them sing “Thank you, thank you, ang babarat ninyo.”

Lechon: As in any other fiesta, lechon will always be the Christmas table’s centerpiece. It’s not healthy, yes, but who said being healthy is part of this season’s deal? Remember: pigging out is allowed during the holidays (and certain occasions).

Metro Manila Film Festival: It’s your chance to see the unstoppable Shake, Rattle & Roll once again! (It’s now on its 12th sequel.) And Bosing Vic transform into the legendary Enteng Kabisote! So, forget Hollywood flicks for a while and let’s support our local films.

Noche Buena: It’s probably the most awaited meal of the year. At the strike of midnight, your usually bare table instantly turns into a lavish feast fit for the kings. Oh, the picture of meat dishes, carbs, and sweets gathered altogether is mouth-watering!

Over the Top: It’s been said many times in many ways that Pinoys have the longest, grandest, costliest, and of course, the merriest Christmas of all. That’s definitely over the top!

Parol: No house—big or small—is caught without a parol come the holidays. It could be as simple as bamboo sticks formed together to be a star then wrapped with papel de hapon, or as high-tech as the capiz lantern with dancing lights in Pampanga.

Queso de Bola: It’s like fruitcake; everyone has it, but no one eats it. Fortunately, it makes for a nice shiny red décor on your platter of New Year’s Day fruits.

Reunion: With the entire angkan (including people you didn’t even know you were related to), long-lost kindergarten classmates, high school friends, college barkada, and former officemates—there are all sorts of reunions that you just have to attend. If only for the tsismis

Simbang Gabi: Ready to hear mass for nine straight mornings? Take note: it’s 4 a.m. But that’s what makes Simbang Gabi all the more exciting; it’s a real test of your willpower! Here’s the deal: if you pass it, your one wish shall be granted.

Tiangge: Rejoice, bargain hunters (read: kuripot)! Your Christmas shopping worries are nearly no more with good, old tiangges where the rule of thumb is to haggle—what you’re naturally good at. Warning: prepare for a battle of siksikan and tulakan.

Unlimited Food and Drinks: Since everyone is extra generous and welcoming, you’ll get invites to every party there is. Grab this opportunity to spare yourself from dining expenses. With the unlimited food and drinks available, you’ll never go hungry or thirsty—at least during the holidays.

Vacation Leave: After a year’s hard work, you deserve a long break. And when’s a better time to take your vacation leave than during Christmas season? Thinking about all the shopping and reunions will distract you anyway. Hence, the influx of balikbayans.

White Christmas: Call it the American dream, but many Pinoys still dream of a white Christmas. That is, frolicking in the snow and building Frosty while singing Winter Wonderland.

X-change Gift: Something soft? Something smelly? Something special? Buying an X-change gift, “X” meaning top secret, for your Monito Monita or Kris Kringle could be challenging and exciting or disappointing and annoying—depending on the gift you’ll receive.

Year-end Reflections: The holidays, too, are a perfect time to go through year-end reflections in preparation for New Year’s resolutions. Example: I think I ate too much crispy pata that it’s starting to show in my thighs. I’ll start dieting on January 2.

Zero: The truth is all that holiday splurging could give you a zero, even a negative, balance in your financial books. But, hey, Christmas happens only once in a year—though celebrating it is bound to be a little too exaggerated if you’re a Pinoy. (Please see entry on O.) So, let’s just eat, drink, and be merry! Ho, ho, ho!




No Comments 24 January 2010

By Manuela Perez Samson

This morning the sun came out! There it was, making its presence felt in patches of light that dappled the leaves of the plants and slipped through the lattice panels in the lanai. Such a beautiful, heartwarming sight, after weeks of rain and wind. After days of harrowing sights leaping out at you from your TV screen – people on the roofs of their flooded homes, people grasping branches of trees to keep from being dragged downstream by the strong current, holding on to tight ropes as they wade through chest-deep waters, babies in styrofoam boxes bobbing up and down streets that had become rivers . . .  This isn’t a horror movie you’re watching, you tell yourself. This isn’t “end of days”, a Nostradamus prophecy played out on a 21st century TV screen, the Great Deluge, the end of the world. 

No, this isn’t make-believe. What you’re watching on TV is what’s actually happening elsewhere in your own country, in a city or town a few miles away from where you sit, warm and comfortable. Horrified… but warm and comfortable, while people on  rooftops send out frantic calls for help, and children and old people are washed away by raging floodwaters. It was a nightmare played out night after night, seemingly unending, seemingly hopeless. Gloomy days, dark clouds, overcast skies . . . what is happening to the world, to our little corner of it? Is God punishing us? Or is Mother Nature turning against us, finally, because we have abused her and desecrated her, and ignored her warnings and her pleas?

Message of hope

And then, the sun came out, bright and shining like a great big smiley face! What more potent message of hope than this? What more can we ask of a God that must be up to here with our pleas, our protests, laments, our wailing and weeping? Our cries of despair and cries for help?

These tragic events are as much our fault as they are of the dam managers who let loose the waters that flooded our streets and turned them into rivers, drowned our beloved ones, destroyed our dreams and hopes.

In the midst of all this sadness and bereavement, this fearful expectation of more devastation yet to come, how can we bring ourselves to await Christmas as in past years, to ready ourselves for joyful reunions, gift-giving, colorful lights and lanterns at our windows – all the wonderful things that the very word Christmas evokes? All the beautiful traditions that have been handed down the years in our families?

How can we reconcile the devastation, the individual tragedies collected into one huge drama of loss and bereavement – how reconcile with the coming holidays, the season of joy and gladness, open hearts and open hands? 

Perhaps therein lies the connection – the outpouring of sympathy and spontaneous generosity towards those who have lost so much, who have lost everything. The giving from the heart to those who have lost heart.

Peaceful Sunday

Sunday, peaceful dreamy Sunday, listening to Johnny Mathis singing his immortal love songs. Vic sitting in his TV chair, eyes closed, dozing off at times, wide awake at times. Only Johnny Mathis can sing a love song the way a love song should be sung, with feeling. Feeling deep enough to waken Vic as JM goes from 12th of Never to Stranger in Paradise.  When we were in college and he was courting me, that was like “our song”.  We were “strangers in paradise” . . . just out of our teens, exploring a new world of emotions, on the threshold of discoveries, reckless and brave with our promises.

And here we were this peaceful Sunday, many moons, many worlds away from those reckless daring years, once again listening to Johnny Mathis singing “our song” in his cool mellow voice, once again strangers in a paradise now badly beaten  by the storms life has dealt us. Vic in his TV seat, eyes closed, his good hand holding mine, his fingers tapping softly to the music. Myself misty-eyed and remembering, glancing at the caregiver in the chair across the room, wishing I had a magic wand I could wave to make him vanish from our sight. Why couldn’t we have this moment of tenderness and memory in complete privacy . . . why couldn’t we cry if we wanted to without feeling embarrassed because other eyes were watching?

His wheelchair by the bed, my gnarled hand clasped in his, a house made quiet by the absence of young voices and young noises are the signs of the passing of many years.  Is it only people like us (okay, old people like us) who can be overwhelmed by this emotion such a love song can evoke?

Christmas countdown

Thirty odd days away to the enchanted season of Christmas, the countdown on TV reminds us. While the young buck with impatience at the crawling of time, we on the other hand, wonder how minutes and hours can so swiftly pass into days and weeks.  Listening to the ticking of the clock, watching the setting of the sun, the waning of the moon, asking ourselves timidly, fearfully, hopefully. . . Will I still be here next Christmas?

Was it George Bernard Shaw who once lamented that youth was wasted on the young? And does that still hold true in this day and age of amazing inventions, incredible technology, unbelievable discoveries – all by the youth, and for the youth? They who send text messages from mobile phones with their eyes closed. . . who do magical stuff on their computers and laptops, communicate in “real time” across seas and oceans and even  planets, speak of Facebook, Twitter, blog, Google in a language known only to themselves. Theirs the world of MacDonald’s, pizza, PS2s and 3s, i-Pods, and all those strange mysterious gadgets familiar only to themselves 

While ours the world of quiet Sundays, Johnny Mathis and The 12th of Never, Tony Bennett and Autumn Leaves, Frank Sinatra and September Song. And Christmas?  Christmas was (and always will be) the magical time, the enchanted world of childhood,  Never Never Land! Step out of your front door – and you can almost smell Christmas! It’s almost here. Reach out for it, and you can almost touch it. Close your eyes, and believe as you believed when you were a child, when nothing was impossible.

How to keep Christmas then, when we seem to be losing everything else?  Perhaps in ways we may have forgotten. Perhaps by being together in heart and mind and spirit if not in the flesh.  Perhaps with hugs and kisses in lieu of gift-wrapped packages.  Perhaps a Christmas table which may be half-full, but with our hearts overflowing.  Perhaps a tiny tree all lit up with smiles and laughter. (On our first married Christmas Vic and I had a really small tree on a plate, trimmed with the tiniest of tinsel balls, its treetop angel a single white bulb at the tip. But it was one of our best Christmases ever!)

Survivors, that’s who we are as a people. Non-quitters… fighters… We are “where Asia wears a smile”.  And even as we brave the stormy winds and rainwaters, we know deep in our hearts that the sun will come out again, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps the day after. Because Christmas is almost here. You can almost smell it. . . touch it. . . feel it.

And we shall keep Christmas, not squander it. We shall weave Christmas into the daily fabric of our life – and treasure its memories that are forever good and sweet.


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